Ask the Nutritionist

Q: I give my 16-month-old son almond milk instead of whole cow's milk. He gets plenty of dairy via good quality cheeses, yogurt, etc., and takes a multivitamin. My doctor recommended I switch to whole milk to increase my son's body weight, although he is "average" height and weight. He is 16 months and weighs 25 pounds. I'd like a second opinion about the importance of dairy intake.

Do young toddlers need whole milk? And what to do if your doctor recommends your child gain weight?

A: Whole milk is typically recommended for young toddlers because of its higher fat content, which is important for brain development, satiety, fat soluble vitamin absorption (Vitamin A, D, E, and K) and meeting their calorie needs for growth. Whole milk also provides a great source of calcium and vitamin D content for bone growth and development. Nut milks, like almond milk, provide a great source of calcium and vitamin D, but only provide about 1 gram of fat per cup, versus 8 grams per cup found in whole milk. Therefore, if you decide to provide your toddler with almond milk, make sure to offer other sources of fat with their meals and snacks. This could be from other high fat dairy sources like whole milk yogurt, cheese or butter. Or, through other sources of fat like avocado, plant-based oils, nut or seed butter, or fatty fish like salmon or tuna.

If your child has been growing along the same growth curve percentile, there is no cause for concern about their weight. If there has been a significant change (i.e. drop in weight along the growth curve), there may be other ways to address this rather than having to switch to whole milk. If you haven't been adding in other sources of fat with meals and snacks, start with that. If you have been, my suggestion would be to meet with a pediatric dietitian to figure out the underlying cause for the weight change and provide personalized feeding strategies and food suggestions that meet your family's and child's food preferences.

Lauren Sharifi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and food blogger at biteofhealthnutrition.com. Lauren works in private practice in Brighton at ASF-Peak Health (asfpeakhealth.com) and is passionate about helping individuals and families become competent eaters that find joy out of eating. Have a question for Lauren? Email editor@baystateparent.com.